They armor troops against cold

Local needles click busily, making helmet liners for U.S. forces in Afghanistan

ANCRAM–While we here in the great Northeast are trying to figure out how to keep warm inside our homes this winter, US serviceman and women in Afghanistan, where it’s also winter, face trying to keep warm outside as they carry out their military missions.

Apparently their helmets, while designed for protection against head trauma, don’t offer much in the way of comfort or warmth.

Enter: People with knitting needles.

The knitting of helmet liners, sometimes called “wool pulleys,” seems to be a national movement, given the number of Internet sites connected with them.

Although one website, www.squidoo.com, mentions that the U.S. military is no longer officially accepting helmet liner donations, the site also says that people who know or are related to soldiers who need them can still send them, and the soldiers can use them.

Locally, Jane Holdridge of Ancram, a financial assistant and payroll clerk at Schweitzer-Mauduit International’s Ancram Mill, is now in the midst of knitting 42 of these cozy, 100% wool, olive green liners for a local soldier headed to Afghanistan to take with him for his unit.

The liners are put on over the head. They cover the forehead, top, back and sides of the head and all around the neck. There is an ample opening for the face, though the band that fits under the chin can be pulled up over the mouth and nose, if desired. The yarn is stretchy and fire retardant and it is basically a one-size-fits-all piece of gear.

Ms. Holdridge, the mother of two grown sons, Jeremy and Ethan, and grandmother of 7-year-old Bradley, got involved with knitting helmet liners through a friend, Babs Croteau, a member of the Hendrick Hudson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Mrs. Croteau said her organization is always looking for ways to support men and women in the armed services, and the group’s regent, or chairperson, came across this pattern for knitted helmet liners, which she asked members who knit to make. Mrs. Croteau knits, but said the skill-level required for the helmet liners was a bit “too much for me.”

On the other hand, Ms. Holdridge, whose mother, Edie Froggatt of Copake Falls, taught her to knit as a child, found the pattern “not difficult” and now has the whole helmet liner making process “down to a science.”

Each liner takes seven to eight hours to complete, and so far she has knitted 50 of them. She gave a few to friends who have sons or daughters serving in the military, and somewhere between 10 and 20 to the DAR, which sent to them to military personnel via an effort mounted by state Senator Steve Saland, (R-41st).

Fellow Schweitzer-Mauduit colleagues at the corporate headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga., heard about Ms. Holdridge’s liner-knitting efforts for the DAR and sent her a carton of 22 skeins of the yarn toward the cause. And to her surprise, they also enclosed a card; “they thanked me for knitting,” she said.

The other 30 or so helmet liners, Ms. Holdridge took to the Ancramdale Post Office, where then Postmaster Debbie Taft (now retired) was collecting donated items for care packages to send to Pfc. Edward Boyles of Ancramdale and his unit serving in Afghanistan.

It was through Mrs. Taft that Linda Willenbrock of Ancram, the mother of a Navy serviceman, heard about the helmet liners. Her 22-year-old son, whose name Ms. Willenbrock was reluctant to put in the newspaper without his permission, is headed for Afghanistan in April and is willing to take 42 of the helmet liners with him for his unit when he goes.

Ms. Holdridge, who has enlisted the aid of co-worker Kathy Connolly, agreed to make the liners.

An anonymous $100 donation secured by Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin and a $50 donation from the Copake Falls American Legion Post will pay for the yarn, which costs $5 per skein. It takes about two skeins to make three liners.

When Ms. Holdridge runs out of things to knit for her family and friends, she knits and donates little caps for newborns and has participated in knitting squares for the Warm Up America campaign to make blankets for people who need them.

She says she just enjoys knitting. She also finds it something of aid in sticking to her diet, noting, “When my hands are busy, I’m not eating.”

Ms. Holdridge said she will accept donations toward the purchase of more yarn to knit helmet liners for the next person going to Afghanistan to take with them. Her address is 1359 County Route 7, Ancram 12502.

To contact Diane Valden email

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